Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Contradicts CDC; Pandemics Don't Care about Politics; Answers to Coronavirus Questions. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired February 27, 2020 - 08:30   ET



LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Took be guided by and led by science and facts and not by politics.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Communicate clearly and candidly. It's interesting to me that those were the first points you raised because I want you to listen to some of the contrasts in the messages that were being sent by the experts, as you call them, and the president last night in this news conference.



ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We can expect to see more cases in the United States.

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, CDC PRINCIPAL DEPUTY DIRECTOR: We do expect more cases. And this is a good time to prepare.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done.


BERMAN: So the experts are saying there are more cases coming. The president saying we're going to get down to zero.

Why is that problematic?

MONACO: Look, you have to have a clear and consistent message and it's got to be candid, as I said before. So, you know, the first clips that you played from the experts, it's entirely accurate and reasonable for our experts to be telling us to get prepared, to prepare for disruption. That's what some of the other experts had said in the last couple of days. We should anticipate that there will be spread in this country. We should prepare for that disruption. That's the type of clear leadership and fact-based communication that you need in a crisis.

Look, I've been part of many crisis response efforts, whether it's to terrorism, to cyberattacks, to pandemic crises, when I served as Homeland Security adviser. And something you learn in Homeland Security is that communicating about homeland security is as much an issue as the actual response on the ground. And it has to be guided by facts and science because people have to understand what they can do, what they should be anticipating.

And the other thing is, John, the fact that the experts were saying that there's going to be spread, that allows communities and public health officials in local communities to start preparing, to start getting their house in order. So it's very important from a response perspective.

BERMAN: So there's a difference between not wanting to create panic, right --


BERMAN: And also being realistic. How do you thread that needle? Because I do understand trying to send the message, we are in control of this because I think people want to know and want to be reassured that the government's in control. So how do you send that message?

MONACO: You send the message by being clear about what you know and about what you don't know and demonstrating visible leadership. Look, the president went out into the briefing room. In any crisis, a president, the first casualties is reason in a crisis, as I said, and any president should be looking to communicate about what the government is doing. And so it was very important for him to do that and it was very important for him to have experts behind him and also providing information.

But what you can't do is confuse people with the messaging that you're giving with the information that you are giving because then people don't have confidence in the steps that the government is taking. And you -- and you need them to be able to look to someone or one source of information, expert information, to understand what are the steps they should be taking and where they should be looking for information about the spread of the virus and --

BERMAN: We heard from Maggie Haberman -- we heard from Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" a short time ago who suggested through her reporting that the vice president's office -- and now the vice president will be in charge of this, and I am curious what you think of that move -- but wants to control or funnel the information to the public. Control the press' access to some of these experts who we have been talking to, the Dr. Anthony Faucis of the world, for instance. I don't know if he's on that list, but the idea that now it's going to be the vice president's office that decides whether or not we hear from them.

Is that a good idea?

MONACO: I think that's a real mistake to -- you should have the information and the visible presence of experts and, you know, Tony Fauci is a national treasure. And we should all be very thankful that he is part of this response. And we should be hearing from him. He is an expert. He's got loads of experience in responding to Ebola, to other infectious disease outbreaks. So you want the information -- and the administration should want the information coming from experts consistently like Tony Fauci. And to have the face of this be a political face, I think, is a mistake.

BERMAN: Lisa Monaco, we appreciate your time. Thanks for being with us this morning. I expect we're going to have to lean on you over the next days and weeks as this situation develops.

So, turns out you really can't wage a war on science and even hope to deal with a public health problem.


We have a "Reality Check," next.


BERMAN: We do have breaking news on coronavirus. These new concerns about this case in California, why it could be so significant. Also, Japan shutting down all public schools. These are major developments.

So how does the president's response so far meet the moment.

John Avlon here with a "Reality Check."



So, there are now more than 82,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world. That's 2,800 lives lost with at least 60 cases in the United States and climbing. But as this escalation occurred, President Trump was in denial.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have it under control. It's going to be just fine.

I think that's a problem that's going to go away.


AVLON: But Trump still found time to blame the media, tweeting, low ratings, fake news, MSDNC and CNN are doing everything possible to make the coronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible.

Here's the thing, Mr. President, pandemics don't care about politics.


Remember, the Chinese impulse to cover up may have helped lead to this outbreak. And here in the United States, the Trump administration's war on science has left us venerable. Remember the Trump administration has been shutting down research committees and silencing scientists and making climate crisis denial a matter of public policy.

But it should still shock you that Trump slashed the government agencies that would have been responsible for handling an outbreak. With money running tight, the CDC planned to cut its global pandemic prevention efforts by 80 percent, cutting activities in 39 countries, including China. The Trump administration also shut down the global health security unit of the National Security Council, disbanding the very office Obama opened to handle pandemics during the Ebola crisis. At the time, Trump railed against Obama.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a tremendous problem in New York because President Obama would not stop the flights. So now we've got Ebola.


AVLON: Well, no, we didn't get an Ebola outbreak in America, thanks in part to the government's robust response.

And at a press conference Tuesday, Trump was asked about that flip flop.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Big, big difference. It's like day and night. As far as what we're doing with the new virus, I think that -- I think that we're doing a great job.


AVLON: Now, Trump is scrambling to get $2.5 billion from Congress to contain the coronavirus. But by sidelining the experts, we're left with the c-team, and exchanges like this between Senator John Kennedy and acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): What's the mortality rate?

CHAD WOLF, DHS SECRETARY: Again, it's under 2 percent.

KENNEDY: What's the mortality rate for influenza?

WOLF: Right around that percentage as well.

KENNEDY: You sure of that?

WOLF: It's a little bit. Yes, sir.


AVLON: Missed it by that much. It's actually less than 0.2 percent. And if we really had the best people in place, they would know that one in 50 Americans don't die from the flu every year. We'd also not see top DHS official Ken Cuccinelli asking folks on Twitter for update -- up-to-date coronavirus numbers when he presumably should have access to better info himself.

But tone comes from the top. It was about two weeks ago that the president floated this fact-free theory.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. Hope that's true.


AVLON: Trump only seemed to start taking coronavirus seriously once it started impacting the stock market. Apparently the White House is panicked that an outbreak could hurt their re-election. And that's trickled down to right wing airwaves, like this rant from Rush Limbaugh.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: Coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.


AVLON: It's not. Look, I've got news for our nation's latest Medal of Freedom recipient, the coronavirus doesn't care about partisan politics.

This is a time for government to face facts, embrace science, and do its job, protect the American people.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: The coronavirus is 20 times more deadly than the flu. Twenty times more deadly. It doesn't mean we should panic, but a key element of public health is public trust, John.

AVLON: It's essential. And that's what's been gutted. It's a self- inflicted wound from this White House.

BERMAN: All right, John, thanks so much for that.

AVLON: Thank you.

Time now for "The Good Stuff."

An injured owl has recovered and is flying high again over California after a firefighter rescued him last year. Firefighter Caleb Amico (ph) spotted the owl while fighting the Maria Fire back in November. He wrapped it in his jacket and took it to a wildlife rehab center. What a beautiful bird. The great horned owl, which Caleb named Ram, had broken its -- a bone in its chest, which kept it from flying. Caleb did the honors yesterday, releasing ram into the wild. A wonderful sight.

All right, other news, the breaking news, we now have our first sign that coronavirus is spreading in a new way here in the United States. A lot of people have questions. What can you do? What should you do to protect yourself and your family? Dr. Sanjay Gupta has answers, next.



BERMAN: The breaking news, doctors in California now treating the first known coronavirus patient in the United States who reportedly did not travel overseas or come into contact with an infected person. A key question so many people asking, what can you do to protect yourself and your family?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who's been covering this for us, joins us now from the White House to answer some of these questions.

Let's start, Sanjay, with this new case in California. Why is this significant?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, all along the question has been, is this virus going to start spreading within the community? What we've known so far is that people who had been traveling to this area in China, Hubei province, and came back, they got infected. They were carrying the virus. That was not that surprising.

Close contacts of those people, in cases, the spouses of those people, two times we saw evidence of human-to-human transmission. People from the cruise ship, not surprising because we knew the virus was circulating there.

The fact that you now have somebody who has no relevant travel history to one of these areas, no known exposure to someone that's carrying the virus and is still infected, that could mean that the virus is starting to spread within the community, meaning people who are walking around the community, likely asymptomatic, you know, meaning they're not sick, they have no symptoms, could be carrying the virus and spreading it. That's what community spread means. And typically it's sort of defined by generational, meaning that, you know, there's some people who have it, they spread it to a few people. Those people then spread it to a few people and so forth. Once you get to three or four or five generations of that, it's pretty entrenched in the community at that point. Kind of like the flu virus, John, or a cold virus.

BERMAN: I'm glad you brought up the flu, Sanjay, because you pointed out to the president last night that coronavirus is much more deadly than the flu.


Twenty times more deadly. Why is that important? And do you know why -- do we know why? Why is coronavirus more deadly than the flu? GUPTA: Yes. OK, so two things. First of all, when you think about

these pathogens, you think about transmissibility and lethality. From a transmissible standpoint, how contagious this is, this coronavirus does seem to be behaving like the flu. It's quite transmissible. But as you point out, from a lethality standpoint, 20 times more lethal. So 2 percent of the people who get this coronavirus, according to the larger study out of China, will die compared to 0.1 percent for the flu.

Why is it so more deadly? Well, when we call something a novel virus, a novel pathogen, that basically means that we, humans, how long we've been living here on earth, we haven't been exposed to this virus. Our immune system has not seen it before. So it can really hit somebody's immune systems and their bodies a lot harder. That's the real concern about a novel virus.

Two caveats, John, quickly. One is that this 2 percent number is still a floating number. I mean we've been talking about this for two months and these numbers are going to change. The way you calculate that, number of deaths over number of infected. Number of deaths we know. That's a pretty certain number. But the number of infected, there could be a lot more people out there who don't have any symptoms or have minimal symptoms, never get tested and they don't get counted in the number of infected people. If there are many more people infected, that would actually bring the fatality ratio lower.

And also with flu, as you know, there's a flu shot. So that -- you know, that helps, although half the country in the United States doesn't get the flu shot. It is part of the reason that it brings down the fatality ratio for flu.

BERMAN: It would be very helpful if everybody did go out and get the flu shot --

GUPTA: It would.

BERMAN: Now, in dealing with coronavirus, because it would help the medical community know you don't have -- or likely don't have the flu and you might have something else.

Which brings me to my next question, when do you go get tested? How do you know if you should be concerned about having coronavirus?

GUPTA: The vast majority of people who have any sort of symptoms, you know, upper respiratory symptoms, cough, cold symptoms, are not going to have coronavirus in the United States. They're going to have flu or the common cold. So exponentially more like to have these other things.

Having said that, this 15th patient that we were just talking about does change things a bit. If this is truly now something that is spreading in the community, that is going to, obviously, raise the likelihood that people could be getting these coronavirus infections. And I think that you're going to see a loosening up of how many people get tested as a result of that. I do have to comment, John, that you look at South Korea, they've been

testing patients, thousands of patients really a day. Here in the United States, we've tested not even a thousand patients in several weeks. So there's -- you know, I think that's concerning because we may not know, have a full picture of just how many people have been, you know, getting this particular infection in the United States because we haven't been doing the proper surveillance. There was flawed testing kits initially. There is only basically ten places now around the country where you can get tested. I've heard many anecdotal reports about people who are concerned because they've traveled, not to China, but to Korea, or to Italy, came back with symptoms and were told they could not get tested. That may change over the next few days, John.

BERMAN: All right, we've got about a minute left, Sanjay. What should people be doing here? Is this the time where people should be wearing face masks when they leave the house? What can you do at this point?

GUPTA: I don't think we're quite ready for the -- for the larger concept of social distancing, which means that you basically don't go to work, you don't send the kids to school. I don't think facemasks are necessary for people who are healthy. It's really for people who are sick to keep it from spreading to other people.

I do think that, John, it's always worthwhile looking at your own household and saying, look, if I'm told to prepare and stay in the house for a couple weeks, do I have what I need, supplies, medicine, stuff for the kids, whatever. Should always be doing that. That's part of basic preparedness.

BERMAN: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks for being with us this morning. Thanks for scrambling to Washington to be at that news conference last night. I think it was great having you there asking the important questions.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: I really appreciate your help with all this.

GUPTA: You got it, John. Thank you.

BERMAN: In the meantime, all eyes on the markets this morning. The markets have reacted really in stunning ways to the coronavirus outbreak, to the White House response, and now there's this new warning about possible recession worries here. More coverage, next.

But, first, a college basketball player whose breaking barriers in this week's "Human Factor."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was diagnosed with autism at nine months, I was told I would never walk, talk or do the normal kid activities. My name is Kalen Bennett (ph). I'm a Division I athlete at Kent State University and I'm on the autism spectrum.

Autism, yes, it's a diagnosis. Yes, I have it. But autism is not me. It does not define who I am. I decide my future.

I started playing basketball in the third grade.


It made bonding with other kids and other people so much easier. So sometimes it takes me a little longer to process stuff than the average person, but that just means I have to work ten times harder.

If I have a bad day, I can just get on the court, let my mind -- you know, just let it clear. All those things that they say I couldn't do, going to high school, going to college, graduate, I proved them wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Bennett. He works in. Turns around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm happy for him and proud of him. He scored his first college basket.

BENNETT: The head has been pushing me and pushing me to be better than I am the day before.

I think what keeps me going is my heart. My heart and my love for others. Everybody has a spark of greatness in them and everybody can do whatever they want to do in life.




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody, I'm Poppy Harlow.


The breaking news this morning, Wall Street battered and --